№ 285 (Horizons, Time, and Death)

In Yamanashi prefecture, Japan

This post originally appeared on a previous incarnation of a personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date. 

Yesterday morning I woke at about 8:00 AM to the sound of a hundred children cheering in unison, singing a chant I did not understand but found wonderful to hear. The closest thing I can relate it to is being woken by a cat that loves you and nuzzles your face when it can’t stand your being asleep any longer.

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№ 284 (In the Wind)

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date.

Long ago I pried open the shutters
And simply let the hinges rust
Allowed them to corrode in the salt spray
Declining shelter in favor of honesty

When the wind blows in
The wind blows clean through
Sometimes a slacking breeze
Sometimes a howling gale

Carefully I watch the instruments
Thermometers and anemometers
Hygrometers and barometers
Doing my best to anticipate each storm

I have no choice but to weather each one, regardless
Awareness doesn’t lessen the impact
But mindfulness calibrates the response
And informs the nature of the experience

№ 283 (A Tiny Gear With Wings)

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date. 

On the morning of March thirty-first, I and five bags containing the bulk of my relevant possessions boarded Delta flight DL296 from Shanghai to Tokyo. This was long overdue, as anyone who has known me for any amount of time would tell you, and in ways a very fulfilling experience. However, it came at an extremely difficult time and was not the wholly positive experience I had always hoped it would be. It was, for example, a transition that signaled the failure of a five-year relationship, despite my best efforts. Also evident was the realization of what not having had the confidence to pursue what was truly important to me had cost me.

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№ 282 (Of One Who Came and Went)

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date.

This is a poem written for a woman who I fell in love with at the worst possible time, but who made me remember who I was after nearly a decade in toxic relationships that slowly poisoned me and made me a stranger to myself. She’s long gone now, but she’ll always be someone I remember in a special way. She gave me a wonderful gift. She gave me back my Self. 

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№ 281

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date. 

Suppressing the fear of death makes it all the stronger. The point is only to know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that “I” and all other “things” now present will vanish, until this knowledge compels you to release them – to know it now as surely as if you had just fallen off the rim of the Grand Canyon. Indeed you were kicked off the edge of a precipice when you were born, and it’s no help to cling to the rocks falling with you. If you are afraid of death, be afraid. The point is to get with it, to let it take over – fear, ghosts, pains, transience, dissolution, and all. And then comes the hitherto unbelievable surprise; you don’t die because you were never born. You had just forgotten who you are.

Alan W. Watts, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

We are vapors and fine gray ash, riding the currents of our own spirit, rising to meet and mix with the clouds of our dreams, both joyful and ghastly. It’s all ephemeral. Marvel at it as it roils and flows, no shape remaining for long. Just as no man can stand in the same river twice, we cannot exist in the same universe twice. It is ever-changing and so are we. The greatest mistake we can make is to cling to it, to try to hold on. That is, of couse, unless you enjoy the feeling of loss as it all slips through your fingers. Better to let go and relax, see where the currents take you. Breathe deep, loosen your grip, and remember that impermanence is a gift. Grasping at the ethereal is un-faith in your own existence.

So let go, already. Realize what you are and aren’t and that neither idea amounts to much. Accept it. Accept that we are all lost. Accept that nobody around you knows what the hell they’re doing and that’s OK. We’re all on the same beautuiful sinking ship, and that includes the sea.

№ 280: Noise

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date. 

Noise gets a bad rap. I suspect most people hear the word noise and imagine something unpleasant. I hear the word noise and I get interested. Noise certainly can be unpleasant, but it isn’t necessarily so. It can also be stimulating and liberating.

The sound of the universe at work isn’t music. It’s noise. The cosmos produces a terrific noise as it grinds away. The heavenly bodies aren’t singing. Rather, they’re thrashing out an incomprehensible, unimaginable, overwhelming cacophony on instruments we cannot comprehend.

What’s with all the praise?, you might scoff, It’s just noise. But that’s where you’d be wrong. It’s never just noise.

This image was from about February 18th, on the eve of the Chinese new year. What you can’t see here are the thousands of firecrackers and unbelievably loud fireworks going off behind me, as close as twenty feet away. It was the most spectacular noise I’ve ever heard.  It was overwhelming, it was immersive, it was all-encompassing. I’ve never thrust my head into the crashing insanity of a class VI rapids, but I suspect there might be some basic similarities between that experience and the fireworks.

Immersed in the noise, the mind does a surprising thing. It begins to clear. This clarity isn’t self-evident at first, but manifests itself as an odd serenity. It’s when the noise stops that the clarity jumps into the foreground of experience. It is in the sonic vacuum left by the noise that the real quiet is found. And it is deafening.

№ 279: Mirror

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date. 

Subjective reality is a sort of mirror. The world as we see it is a reflection of ourselves. We see what we allow ourselves to see. It is an incomplete view at first, but that also means that, if we look carefully, not only do we see ourselves as part of the world around us, we see the world around us as something contained within us. Each layer of reflection holds a broader vew. Before long, we lose sight of our own shape. Still, we know it’s in there, somewhere. After all, can’t have inside without outside, self without other.

Keep looking closer and you see more and more. It’s a feedback loop of perception that eventually explodes into each and every thing that exists reflecting and containingevery other thing that exists. Everything is permeated with everything else.

Reflection reveals interpenetration. Look long enough and you’ll see it. We are all points of light, as infinite as infinitesimal. We are shimmering dewdrops on Indra’s net.

№ 278: Illness in the Sun

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date. 

hypnagogic /ˌhɪp nəˈgɒdʒɪk/ adjective
1. of or relating to drowsiness
2. inducing drowsiness
3. relating to the images or hallucinations sometimes perceived during a near-sleep state

(late 19th century from the French hypnagogique)

I’ve been sick this week. Whatever bug has been going around took up residence in my chest and has been lodged there since Sunday. It even caused me to miss a couple days of work. Today (Wednesday) is my normal day off, though, and feeling a little better than I did on Tuesday, I went for a morning walk. The weather was warm and beautiful. There’s a particular route I usually take when I go for a walk, kind of a lopsided figure-eight that takes me through two street markets and a park. This morning I adjusted my route so that I could visit a long, narrow park that follows the course of a river. It’s situated strangely and is almost always deserted. I found a bench and sat down, and after scribbling a few ideas in a notebook, I just sat quietly for a while. I usually have a hard time clearing my mind, but sometimes I get lucky. This morning was lucky. After a while I became intensely aware of the warm sunlight filtering in through the bare trees. So soothing a presence. I bathed in it, drank it, and remembered cool autumn afternoons in Massachusetts and Ohio, napping on hillsides among dry, fallen leaves, taking up the sun-harvesting where the leaves had left off. And when I left the park this morning, I shuffled out with the kind of fuzzy-headed sleepiness in which you feel something friendly and warm permeating you, soaking right down into your bones. I was vibrating with that sunlight. My hair and fingernails humming to the frequency of something bigger than me. Put me in the dark and I would have glowed from the inside out, flesh translucent against the collected rays of sunlight. 

I’m still sick, but I do feel better.

№ 277: String

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date.

A long time ago I began to play with the image of something like a string trailing behind us wherever we went, from birth to death. If we could see these strings, we could see every path we’ve taken, every place we’ve ever been. Single strands describing unique journeys, and great, thick cables showing our habitual movements. In rural areas, the strings might still be sparse. Up in the mountains or out at sea, we might see only that which trails behind us. But in cities, they would twist and tangle and pile up in unimaginable complexity. I often visualize this here in Shanghai, especially on crowded subway trains (the subway here has a daily ridership of over 8 million) and when taking morning walks through crowded market streets. I imagine it while wandering between the aging apartment blocks surrounding my own building, where I see laundry hanging from utility lines and families stacked so close together that apartment walls seem little more than a formality.

I think we’ve all seen long-exposure photographs of a busy highway, where headlights and taillights streak into long blurs tracing the paths followed by each vehicle. When I imagine peoples’ paths, it’s something like that, only it’s all in motion all the time. I’m sure my long-standing obsession with the film Koyaanisqatsi has something to do with that.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too, in response to my sister having a baby. I now have a little niece, and I wonder what her path will be. What curious route will her string of experience describe?

№ 275: Night Walk

This post originally appeared on a previous personal blog. I’m republishing it here with the original post date.

Shanghai is a city that drives me crazy often enough. It’s dirty, crowded, noisy, and defies logic at every turn. But then I go for a walk at night and it feels better. It’s totally different, while remaining within the framework of its essential identity, like a negative image of itself. Late at night, there exists in the city a vacuum created by the intensity of the day. A measured lethargy that moves like cool molasses and liquified emptiness. The lights play games with the smog. Stray cats play games with loose feathers and snack on animal remains in the deserted market streets. Back rooms are full of neighborhood majong games, high rises filled full of restless and exhausted families. Walking darkened sidewalks, I float in the fluid void between all of its varied pieces.